Canberra book finals return with goalless draw as Sydney edge closer to Premiers Plate
Canberra United punched their ticket to the Westfield W-League Finals Series for the first time in four years while Sydney FC moved within one point of being crowned Premiers following a 0-0 stalemate at Viking Park.
Despite needing only a share of the points to clinch their post-season return, the Green Machine did not hold back as star striker Michelle Heyman came close with a series of chances while the home side shackled the ladder-leaders, restricting the Sky Blues to a pair of hopeful late shots on target.
The ACT outfit celebrated their return to finals football in head coach Vicki Linton’s first season at the helm, moving to 22 points and ensuring they will finish ahead of Adelaide United in the race for a top-four finish, with the Reds’ hopes of a first-ever finals appearance now hinging on Melbourne Victory only collecting a maximum of one points from their last two games.
Ante Juric’s side were nowhere near their creative best after losing Cortnee Vine to injury in the first half but the Sky Blues edged ever closer to a first Premiers Plate triumph in a decade after a resolute defensive performance, while occasionally threatening Canberra as the second half became tighter.
The Sky Blues had goalkeeper Jada Whyman to thank for keeping them in the game following an outstanding one-handed save from Heyman in the first half, while the competition's all-time top scorer was denied an 11th goal of the season by the away side’s upright minutes after half-time.
Another looping effort by Heyman in the second half dropped a shade wide of a stranded Whyman’s post as Canberra ran out of ideas to break through a stubborn Sydney backline but both sides will advance to the Semi-Finals in what may not be the final meeting between the teams in their bid for Championship glory.
The Green Machine knew a single point would be enough to finish ahead of Adelaide on goal difference and clinch a place in the top four, but the home side wasted no time taking the game to the table-toppers with Grace Maher trying to her luck from distance after seven minutes as Sydney goalkeeper Whyman held her driven shot well.
Canberra’s custodian Keeley Richards was living dangerously as a loose pass on the edge of her own area left her goal unprotected but Remy Siemsen passed to Clare Wheeler in an offside position for the hosts to escape and Whyman was back to work at the midway point of the half, making an outstanding save from Heyman after Laura Hughes’ determined run.
Maher and Princess Ibini exchanged fizzing strikes that whistled over their opponents’ crossbars, before Ante Juric suffered a blow with the loss of Vine to injury but substitute Taylor Ray made a quick impression when she set up Siemsen to fire a shade over the Canberra target with the final meaningful effort before half-time.
Sydney were not able to trouble Richards' goal during a closely-fought opening 45 minutes, and Canberra set the tempo after the interval with Laura Hughes stinging Whyman's hands after Maher opted not to shoot when perhaps she could have, before Maher played the perfect delivery but Heyman's diving header cannoned back off the upright within three minutes of the restart.
Heyman was clearly desperate to add to her 10 goals in the competition this season as she trailed Emily Gielnik by two goals in the race for the Golden Boot, but her aim was narrowly off the mark after she beat Whyman to Lauren Keir's lofted pass but lifted her effort past the frame of the goal.
Meanwhile, Sydney were battling to stay in contention as Clare Wheeler's centre narrowly evaded the onrushing Ibini as time expired on the Sky Blues' efforts to wrap up the Premiership. One more point in their season finale against Melbourne Victory next Wednesday will clinch Sydney's third Premiers Plate, and their first in 10 years, but Brisbane Roar and Victory will have an eye on snatching the prize away.
Melbourne Victory v Perth Glory
Sunday, 28 March 2021
Venue: Epping Stadium
Kick-off: 5.05pm AEDT
Brisbane Roar v Newcastle Jets
Sunday, 28 March 2021
Venue: Lions FC Stadium
Kick-off: 7.05pm AEDT
Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory
Wednesday, 31 March 2021
Venue: Cromer Park
Kick-off: 6.35pm AEDT